Broadway World Cabaret and Concert editor Stephen Mosher picks his favorite moments of 2021.
by Stephen Mosher Dec. 31, 2021
As the minutes tick by on the clock on the wall (everyone still has a ticking clock on the wall, right?), there is much satisfaction in looking through the list of shows I have, personally, been able to see in New York City nightclubs since the re-opening of the cabaret and concert industry. It was obviously a difficult time for everyone, during the show business shut down, from the clubs to the artists to the audiences, everybody suffered. But we survived it – the clubs, the artists, the audience, the industry. And though there were some casualties in the form of venues that did not re-open, and members of the artistic community who relocated to places with a lower cost of living, there was a resilient return to the art form of cabaret and concerts by a community determined to survive. Since the earliest days of the resurgence of cabaret, last spring, there have been many sensational shows, some of which this writer was fortunate enough to see and review for Broadway World Cabaret, usually two a day but some weekend days, as many as three or four. There is so much talent, so much life, all of it worth seeing, hearing, and noting, especially from out front, where the happy, relieved members of the audience were equally as fascinating to observe. It was a rich and rewarding season of club-going, even during a truncated year.
As the hours of 2021 slowly sift out of view, hopefully giving way to happier 2022, these are the performances and productions that made their debuts in 2021 (or series being seen for the first time by this writer) that, on this New Year’s Eve, are still on my mind, where they are likely to remain for several New Years Eves still to come.
The Best of The Clubs
Farah Alvin – B-SIDE – The Green Room 42: Farah Alvin embodies an unmistakable balance of star power, talent, and accessibility that makes her relatable to audiences. With this club act made up of the radio hits that shaped her during her formative years, Alvin wow’d audiences who didn’t know a mere mortal could sing like this and be so naturally funny in between diva bouts. Like all of Alvin’s shows, this was worth the time and money spent, but coming back as one of the early shows to return, this one threw all caution out the window and restored to the industry a magic that had been missing for far too long. Read Ricky Pope’s Broadway World review HERE and my Broadway World review HERE.
Stephen DeAngelis, producer – AT THIS PERFORMANCE – The Green Room 42: This series putting a spotlight on the understudies and standbys has had a long run in New York City but it took being seated with producer DeAngelis at the Mason Alexander Park show to get me at a table for one of their performances, and it was one of the happy nights in my work. What Mr. DeAngelis has created here isn’t just a noteworthy night of entertainment featuring top-shelf entertainers, it is a much-deserved thank you to the men, women and gender non-conforming people who keep Broadway alive, even when there isn’t a pandemic raging. This is a noble effort and an artistic triumph that everyone should seek out and see. Read my Broadway World Review HERE.
Ari Axelrod – ARI’S ARIAS – Birdland Theater: After capturing the attention of cabaret audiences and industry members with his hit show A Celebration of Jewish Broadway, Ari Axelrod returned to the stage with this nightclub act that introduced all the parts of himself to the people, not just the Jewish and musical theater activist. What was left when the smoke cleared was a new star in cabaret, and a fanbase to go with him. It was the most vulnerable, honest, informative, and artistic storytelling put on a nightclub stage in 2021. Read my Broadway World review HERE.
Andrew Barth Feldman – PARK MAP – Feinstein’s/54 Below: The most interesting premise of any show in 2021 was Andrew Barth Feldman’s exploration of his childhood obsession with Disney, and where that ardor belongs, now that he is an adult. Filled with storytelling that wasn’t just passionate, it was purposeful, Park Map provided Barth Feldman with opportunities both dramatic and comedic to display for audiences exactly the degree of his performing virtuosity, which usually clocked in around thirteen on the scale of one to ten. Read Ricky Pope’s Broadway World review HERE.
Ben Bogen – TEENAGE DREAM – The Green Room 42: For his solo show debut, Broadway actor Ben Bogen took his wealth of musical theater experience, his flair for the written word, choreography, and directing, his love of pop and rock divas, his real-life story, and his determination to live in the light, and created a cabaret show that could play a big venue in Vegas or Atlantic City. With a crackerjack band and high-caliber backup performers worthy of a Cher concert, Bogen used his debut club act to announce to the world that he is here and that his name belongs over the title. Read my Broadway World review HERE.
Laura Benanti – THE DIAMOND SERIES – Feinstein’s/54 Below: Attending the show as Bobby Patrick’s photographer gave this journalist a chance to see, in the early days of The Diamond Series, what Feinstein’s/54 Below had created with their experiment in elegance. Presenting particularly special artists for an extended and more intimate performance, the ticket price of which included multiple dinner courses, cocktails, and more personal space, 54 Below effectively took patrons into the past to a time when New York Society lunched at 21, attended the Ziegfeld Follies On The Roof, and socialized at The Stork Club. The Diamond Series, whatever the star on stage, is a creation to be continued for as long as is possible – that is how rare an experience it is. Read Bobby Patrick’s Broadway World review HERE.
Gunhild Carling – Birdland Theater: When the Swedish singer, musician, songwriter, dancer (and more) lands on a stage it is so much more than a music show – this is a blizzard of talent and entertainment from a family that more closely resembles a trapeze act with instruments. The ninety-minute show that Carling and co. performed recently at Birdland was the dream come true of every patron of any club that goes out for a thrilling night of diversion. The party that Gunhild and her family threw is one that should be available every week of the year – were it only possible; Gunhild is in demand all over the world and Birdland audiences will have to wait until next time but it will be worth the wait. Read my Broadway World review HERE.
Kristin Chenoweth – Christmas At The Met – Metropolitan Opera: Just the name Kristin Chenoweth should be enough to get a person into a theater, small or large, but the promise of what would happen when this star and this artist would be allowed carte blanche in the creation of a holiday show at The Met should have drawn even the most nervous homebody out for the night. That promise was fulfilled, and then some, in a program more spectacular than the annual one that occurs at Radio City. It was a night to remember by an unforgettable woman. Read my Broadway World review HERE.
Scott Coulter, producer – BROADWAY OUR WAY! A CCM CELEBRATION! – Feinstein’s/54 Below: One of the great producers and great emcees in the club and concert industry, Mr. Coulter’s name on any production guarantees quality. Through his Spot-On Entertainment, Coulter curates concerts and talent as though he were filling a show room at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, which made choosing just one of his concerts as the best of the season a tidy task. The educational tie-in of the Broadway Our Way! concert is what pushed this show to the top, for the celebration and promotion of education is paramount. So is Lee Roy Reams, the inarguable headliner of this show. Read my Broadway World review HERE.
Abby DePhillips, producer – A BROADWAY BREAKUP PLAYLIST VOL. 2 – Feinstein’s/54 Below: Oh-so-clever and magnificently curated, the BBPV2 was the brainchild and creation of Ms. DePhillips and her Musical Director Benjamin Rauhala. The program created featured some of the best group show talent in the business, dressed in jammies, telling all the different tales that come with a conscious uncoupling. From start to finish, the slickly produced program provided a Standing Room Only crowd with everything a person needs in a group show: a theme, throughline, quality music, and engaging storytellers. DePhillips’ calendar should be filling up with projects because, clearly, she knows what she’s doing. Read my Broadway World review HERE.
Andre de Shields – BLACK BY POPULAR DEMAND – Feinstein’s/54 Below: Unquestionably the most theatrical, outrageous, and thought-provoking show of the season, Black By Popular Demand was Tony Award recipient de Shields’ musical and socio-poetic comment on the state of the world, and his point of view as a black, queer, and fabulous man and artist. The show had a lot to unpack, and de Shields employed a full cast of musicians and musical storytellers to help him with the task, even presenting some musical material penned by his own hand. This was art, storytelling, and theater at its most innovative, fascinating, and entertaining. Read my Broadway World review HERE.
Sasha Dobson – ALBUM RELEASE CONCERT – Birdland Theater: In order to celebrate the release of her new album, jazz singer Sasha Dobson brought her one-of-a-kind sound to a sold-out house and performed every single track from the CD. Impeccable, electrifying, and unapologetically original, Dobson showed what good jazz and good live music can be when it’s being led by a Mistress of the art form who shows up prepared. Some say you should dance like nobody’s watching. Sasha Dobson sings and dances like everyone is watching and she loves them for it. Read my Broadway World review HERE.
Melissa Errico – MELISSA ERRICO SINGS HER NEW YORK – Feinstein’s/54 Below: Melissa Errico may be the most dedicated Kabarettist in the business today. During the show business shut down, Ms. Errico created three virtual programs for fi:af, one holiday concert for Bay Street, and appeared in the Irish Rep’s streaming Meet Me In St. Louis. As soon as the lockdown was lifted, she presented a brand-new concept in cabaret, informed by her life story, her love of New York, the literature of authors who love New York, too, and music that tells all those stories. Melissa is in a constant state of creation, looking to grow as an artist, and when she puts out shows like this, she effectively grows the art form of cabaret. Read Ricky Pope’s Broadway World review HERE.
Roderick Ferguson – MAN OVERBOARD!!! – Don’t Tell Mama: New to the scene, this singing storyteller with a penchant for comedy timing brought his musical monology from Florida to New York to tell the true tale of his wacky family life, his gay existence, and his position as poster boy and plaintiff for the Marriage Equality movement of Bermuda. A surprise in every way, Ferguson and his act brought to the cabaret scene and season a fresh look at the possibilities and talents available in the small venues of Manhattan if one is willing to go out and find them. Read my Broadway World review HERE.
Sean Harkness – SEAN HARKNESS AND THE UNUSUAL SUSPECTS – Birdland Theater: With bandleader Harkness at the helm, The Unusual Suspects were this year’s rock band of cabaret. Rock, pop, blues, country and a lot of other genres of music that once didn’t quite fit the cabaret mold are now welcome in the small venue rooms and The Unusual Suspects can play all of those types of music, and more. Their Birdland concert leaned into the radio music of the Eighties but made it sound like music of today, melding that magic place where living in the now and feeling nostalgia meet, and giving an audience a night where they could really and truly forget all the mess they left out on the street when they entered the club. Read my Broadway World review HERE.
Becca Kidwell – BECCA KIDWELL’S SHOW OF DARES – Pangea: One of the newer members of the industry, Ms. Kidwell has been building up her brand, her voice, and her fanbase for a few years. With her post-pandemic show built on musical challenges thrown at her by esteemed colleagues and mentors with decades more experience, the (still) fledgling storyteller stepped out of her comfort zone, giving audiences sometimes demanding vocals, miles of visible growth, and stories that were always interesting to watch, heartwarming to support, and never, ever boring. Becca Kidwell is growing up before our very eyes, and the Show of Dares was an important (and entertaining) rite of passage, as well as a turning point in her career. Read my Broadway World review HERE.
Blaine Alden Krauss – FROM THE SOUL PART II – Feinstein’s/54 Below: Easily the most exciting performer working in cabaret and concert today, Blaine Alden Krauss divides his time between the musical theater stage and group cabaret shows, but when he was given over an hour of time that belonged, solely, to the music that he wanted to present, the basement at 54 Below was in pandemonium. And rightly so. Blaine Krauss is a star on the rise, no, a meteor, and all it takes to know it is to hear him sing “How Come U Don’t Call Me Anymore?” or his (rapidly approaching iconic status) “Glamorous Life” by Mr. Sondheim. From The Soul, Part II had both performances and everything else because it came right from BAK’s soul. Read my Broadway World review HERE.
Lauren Marcus – LAUREN MARCUS – Feinstein’s/54 Below: Driven by some inner force that makes her the true original that she is, Lauren Marcus makes every concert an event, a happening, a landslide of talent sent to wow audiences and leave them breathless. Marcus’s one-night-only performance at 54 Below happened early in the club’s reemergence from shutdown, allowing Lady Lauren Line-storm to proclaim that the club was OPEN FOR BUSINESS. A singing actress with a rock star aesthetic, Marcus puts on a show of shows that leaves you breathless and craving more. This is an entertainer who should be booked into every club in the city, she is a performer for everyone who loves storytelling, musical or otherwise. Read my Broadway World review HERE.
Mauricio Martinez – BACK ON 54TH STREET – Feinstein’s/54 Below: Making his return to the stage mere weeks after the clubs were reopened, Mr. Martinez, he of the dreamy vocals and devastating face, was a mass of unbridled joy for the entirety of his whirlwind program. When a tidal wave of happiness comes up onto the stage with skills like this, the end result can be nothing less than marvelously memorable. Working overtime in overdrive to entertain his audience and to satisfy his longing for the stage, Mauricio Martinez left it all on the floor, the way every nightclub artist should… times ten. Read my Broadway World review HERE.
Tanya Moberly – I LOVE NEW YORK SONGWRITERS PART II – Don’t Tell Mama: A longtime veteran of the cabaret and concert industry, Moberly knows who she is and how she wants to tell stories. In her nearly completely rhetoric-free show, Tanya focused on the songwriters, the songs, the music, the lyrics, and how she might, best, serve all four simultaneously, and her audience as well. The result was a production that played like the most interesting and authoratative folk and rock concert, each musical presentation a visceral story to be felt, all the way to the deepest place in your soul. This is cabaret at its most confident and cool. Read my Broadway World review HERE.
J.L. Perkel – BUTTERFLY – The Triad: In order to celebrate the transitional surgeries that would provide her with the body and the life that would be authentic to the woman that she is, J.L. Perkel threw herself a Farewell Concert. Not knowing what her vocal instrument would be like after her affirmation surgeries, this might be Perkel’s final opportunity to raise her well-trained voice in song, the way that she had been taught by her mentors. With an audience made up of friends, fans, followers, and family, Ms. Perkel stepped into the light in a way that she never had before, and the result was a momentous, honest, and genuine cabaret act for the times in which we live. Read Bobby Patrick’s Broadway World review HERE.
Emily Skinner – A BROAD WITH A BROAD BROAD MIND – Feinstein’s/54 Below: On days when I am exhausted, when I think I can’t make it out of the house and into a club, when I just want to skip all the shows and go to sleep for a week, my husband says to me (this is a completely true story): “Emily Skinner.” Just like that. Nothing more. Just “Emily Skinner.” The experience of seeing Skinner’s post-pandemic return to the stage was one filled with such artistry and authenticity, so much humor and frankness, and such magnificent music that the promise that any other show might be as good as this one is enough to get me off the sofa, into my parka, and out into the cold, the wind, and the rain. That’s the power of quality creation, the kind in which Emily Skinner specializes. Read my Broadway World review HERE.
Kuhoo Verma -SOUNDS OF HEALING – Feinstein’s/54 Below: Perhaps the biggest surprise of the season was when Kuhoo Verma took her creative instincts and turned them into a spiritual happening in a nightclub. For her solo show debut, Ms. Verma chose to perform a continual meditation through music, singing popular songs, original compositions and improvised vocalise, often encouraging the audience to close their eyes and come into the meditation with her. The act a true original (like the woman), it was a crying shame that it only had one performance because, with more shows, Kuhoo Verma could have healed a lot more broken people and sent them home to face the harsh reality of a world in distress. Still, since this performance was completely sold out, she did have a chance to touch many who will never forget this night out. Read my Broadway World review HERE.
Jessica Vosk – MY GOLDEN AGE – Carnegie Hall: Opening night at Carnegie Hall should make a person nervous, but there was no evidence that Jessica Vosk was anything other than absolutely ready for the marathon concert that was the event of the season. A musical theater actress and social media marvel, Jessica Vosk did more than assist Carnegie Hall with their budget by completely selling out every last seat in the hallowed hall: she proved that hers is as big, as important, as significant a name and talent in the history of live entertainment as some of the other stars who have played the room. It was, truly, the event of the season. Read my Broadway World review HERE.
Amy Beth Williams – A THOUSAND BEAUTIFUL THINGS – Don’t Tell Mama: The quiet grace of Amy Beth Williams is deceptive because when she enters the room and steps up onto the stage, there is no foreshadowing that the elegant and unassuming woman before you will take a room full of people on so powerful a ride of musical storytelling. That, though, is precisely what her show of musical monologues presented to audiences who were left a little thunderstruck by the depth of emotion and the surprise of what cabaret can be in the hands of a world-class Kabarettist. It was enough to make a person want to catch every Amy Beth Williams show. Read my Broadway World review HERE.
Maria Wirries – MARIA WIRRIES – Feinstein’s/54 Below: With her eponymous solo show debut, Maria Wirries introduced herself to the club and concert industry with a ferocity that goes beyond simply being talented or trained. Maria Wirries is a unique-voiced singer/songwriter with a passion for life, for eating life, and for embracing that which is most uniquely herself. Playing to a sold-out crowd of friends and family, Wirries got a taste of what it is to be a solo singing performer, and if there is a shred of justice in the world, she is writing new songs right now for her next solo show, one which will have an audience of strangers who heard her name and looked her up because that’s where stardom starts. And Maria Wirries is a star. Read my Broadway World review HERE.
Dorian Woodruff – STUDIO MUSICIAN: THE MUSIC OF MANILOW – Pangea: In an industry overrun with screlters reading their lyrics off of tablets, Dorian Woodruff preserved the elegance of old-world cabaret by presenting his most personal show to date, interesting because his last show WELCOME HOME dove deep into stories of his family, which is pretty darn personal. Studio Musician, though, was his own story, as related through the music of Barry Manilow, and as Woodruff told that story, audiences leaned in to Dorian in a way they may not have, in the past. With impeccable vocals, eloquence, and humor, t was an elegant, sophisticated, tuneful show reminiscent of the days of Bobby Short and Mel Torme. This was a Cafe Carlyle show playing Pangea, a club where an atmosphere of family and loyalty pervades the air, and loyalty and family are where Woodruff lives. Read my Broadway World review HERE.
THE BEST OF THE VIRTUAL
Christine Andreas – PIAF: NO REGRETS – The Cabaret Project of St. Louis: The cinematic transfer of her one-woman Edith Piaf tribute gave Christine Andreas an opportunity to preserve an immaculate piece of musical theater, for all time, and thank goodness. The PIAF: NO REGRETS show is chic, sumptuous, enlightened, personal, droll, and deeply entertaining. Beautifully shot by Emilie Silvestri, the film is more than a one-shot archival video captured from a tripod at the back of the room – it is a work of art that stands on its own, as it revolves around three artists of the highest degree: Musical Director Martin Silvestri, Leading Lady Christine Andreas, and Legend Edith Piaf. It’s like a holy trinity of entertainment. Read my Broadway World review HERE.
Eric Michael Gillett – JUMP/CUT – MetropolitanZoom: Performing live, in real-time, cabaret Master Eric Michael Gillett dove into the virtual entertainment scene by way of the most successful platform for the new art form, and with it, he proved the merit of the format, and why it should always be an option for live music. Without benefit of a live studio audience, EMG managed to keep his cabaret program personal and accessible – there was no lack of connection with the audience, even though that audience was just a grid of windows on a computer monitor. Gillett proved that cabaret is universal and can be created, performed, and experienced long distance, while losing none of the personal touch and intimacy one might have feared would have disappeared. This cabaret performance was a game changer in the virtual entertainment market, and one that cabaret artists could use as inspiration for how it’s done. Read my Broadway World review HERE.
Jeremy Jordan – CARRY ON – Feinstein’s/54 Below: The film version of Jeremy Jordan’s one-man show took the crowning glory in Mr. Jordan’s artistic life off of the stage and turned it into a brand-new work of art, evolving Jeremy into a brand-new type of artist. When Jordan presented the stage version of his self-penned story about fatherhood, his child was a newborn; created in quarantine, the film version was modified to reflect the growth of his daughter into a toddler. Featuring a script and compositions of his own creation, both the musical play and musical film each stand on their own two feet, using their similarities and their differences to show what can happen when an artist digs deep, goes out of their comfort zone, and decides to be vulnerable. Read my Broadway World review HERE.
THE BEST OF THE NEW RELEASES
The Drinkwater Brothers SMILING AND WEEPING: With their second studio album, The Drinkwater Brothers (Matt and John) declared that they are more than the accidental songwriters who made the album DO NOT FEED THE BIRDS just because of an executive’s suggestion that they stop singing covers. The twins have proven that they are not a one-hit-wonder by taking their songwriting skills to a level reminiscent of John & Paul, and Simon & Garfunkel. In this six-track EP, the boys (men) show versatility, musicality, and a mixture of wit and intellect that makes the music all that much better. The Drinkwaters are here to stay. Read my Broadway World review HERE.
Nicole Henry TIME TO LOVE AGAIN: On her spectacular eighth album, jazz Mistress Nicole Henry gives listeners well-thought-out and supremely executed reinventions of classic tunes that makes them into fresh looks at old friends – so fresh that, at times, you find yourself saying, “Wait, I know that lyric… what is this song?” A new look at something old is always welcome and, if you’re lucky, eye-opening. Possibly Nicole’s greatest album to date, Time To Love Again is a musical antidote for the last two years, and essential listening. Read my Broadway World review HERE.
Karen Mason LET THE MUSIC PLAY: Legendary Karen Mason went back into the studio with producer and songwriter Paul Rolnick and what she released is (in the opinion of this writer and fan) her best album since Not So Simply Broadway, the iconic record that launched her career. While some artists find a lane, get in that lane, and stay in that lane for their entire career, Karen Mason shows, on this album, why it is important to have an artistic reach going in many different directions. A powerful, down-to-earth, poignant, jocular, and awake album is the result. Read my Broadway World review HERE.
Anthony Nunziata TOGETHER FOR CHRISTMAS: There were a shocking number of great Christmas albums this holiday season, enough to make it difficult to choose just one as the best of the year. With his album of all-new holiday music, though, Anthony Nunziata created a fresh holiday listening experience with radio-ready music and recording studio technicals reflective of the mastery of the Nashville music community. The songs stay secular, adult, nostalgic, relevant, and spiritual while avoiding the religion that can be uncomfortable for some. And then there are those lovely Nunziata vocals. We have a winner. Read my Broadway World review HERE.
With this list, dear Broadway World Cabaret readers, everyone has had a look at what is in my head and in my heart, with regards to the artistic creations that have resonated most soundly with me during this year. It has truly been a privilege and my honor to spend my nights in the clubs and cabarets of this city, observing and reporting on the multitudes of artists and the uniqueness of their art. It is an assignment I take seriously, one to which I have been entrusted by Broadway World Bossman Robert Diamond, and I am most grateful to him and to Alan Henry for their trust and support in this work. There has been merit in the work of every single artist to set foot onto the stage of a Manhattan small venue, and I look forward to getting back to work in 2022. For today, from the me and the writers who make Broadway World Cabaret possible (and for whom I am so grateful), may you all have a safe celebration tonight, a great meditation tomorrow, and an authentic and joyful coming year.